“The Frozen Dead” (2017)
Created by: Gérard Carré , Pascal Chaumeil and Caroline Van Ruymbeke
Featuring: Charles Berling, Julia Piaton, Pascal Greggory
It is fair to say that television crime dramas, in particular foreign language crime dramas are now a dime a dozen, they exist in almost every language covering a variety of normally brutal and heinous crimes. These international television shows seemed to begin with the Nordic Noir genre that started with the excellent “The Killing” (2007-2012) from Denmark which itself was re-made in the US as a hit there. What followed was a myriad of not only crime, but political stories primarily from those Nordic countries that attempted to originate new stories as well as sympathetic flawed people who were only one step behind their quarries. These whodunits spread throughout the world expanding beyond their origins with many variations on a theme, one of the most successful English language versions being “Broadchurch” (2013 -2017) from the UK featuring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman.
What all of these shows have in common in terms of plot and narrative is rather simple, with most of them obviously created with an ending in mind, sometimes that ending (as well as revelation) can be shocking enough to come out of left field where no viewer may expect the story to end up. The other thing that these narratives have in common is an almost endless supply of red herrings that keep an audience guessing throughout what can seem like an endless amount of episodes. As a viewer i find not only the amount of episodes as well as the endless amount of suspects exceedingly frustrating.
Now comes the latest in this tradition, this time from France with a show that has as its backdrop the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains which become a character using the isolation of an area unlike many other similar shows. “The Frozen Dead” (originally titled “Glacé”) broadcast in France in January 2017 is different to many of the genre shows around, it is only six episodes and the landscape is amazing, there are seemingly parallel storylines which make sense and are linked as are the performances which are superb.
“The Frozen Ground” (2017) is set in the Pyrenees where the corpse of a headless horse is discovered 2,000 meters up a mountain strung up atop a cable car. The investigation is entrusted to Captains Martin Servaz of the SRPJ of Toulouse and Irène Ziegler of the National Gendarmerie . Not far from here, young psychiatrist Diane Berg begins psychotherapy sessions with Julian Hirtmann, a dangerous serial killer arrested years ago by Captain Servaz and now incarcerated in a high security prison.
The story itself does not lend itself to a deep description here as that would only lead to spoilers, this show is definitely more enjoyable by not knowing what is going to happen next, as well as what the relationships between all the major as well as the minor characters are at the beginning of the story.
This show is expertly directed by Laurent Herbiet as well as being beautifully photographed by Dominique Bouilleret who both use the geographic location of the Pyrenees, as not only a unique backdrop for the action but also incorporate it as a character to visually show the audience the kind of isolation that each of the separate characters are going through as they progress through the main story as well their own separate narratives. Herbiet really does know this story, which is reflected in the tight storytelling as well as the time that is given over to not only each character, but also their importance within the narrative, which is linked directly to the plot. This last point may seem self evident but it is a consistent weakness with many other crime dramas, they can get lost within their own story as well the meaning that story has in relation to the actions that they take.
As well as the characters being spot on, the cast has been chosen very well, Charles Berling as the main protaganist, Martin Servaz becomes increasingly sick as the story unfolds, with the realisation that the motivation of the protagonists starts coming together. The second lead is Julia Piaton as Irène Ziegler whose motivations and background become more relevant and apparent as she works her way through what starts as a simple animal death. Piaton and Berling work together as a one two punch as well as any onscreen partnership ever has. On the other side of the story we have the mesmerizing as well as menacing Pascal Greggory as serial killer and somewhat mentor Julian Alois Hirtmann who operates almost entirely from two rooms in an asylum – he acts with such limited physical support that you would forgive him for being one note, but trust me he isn’t, he offers such a well rounded performance you will be wondering what his motivations are right to the end. Finally, the rest of the supporting cast are all great, with varying performances that change a lot right from the first episode to the last without a hint of insincerity or shenanigans by the writers of the series. For me I must say I always find it a real refreshing feeling to see actors I have never seen before especially when they are in a project this good.
The writing on this show is actually one its top strengths which may seem obvious but in fact by time something this complex gets to the screen the heart of it can be removed by over zealous producers and directors, but that is not the case here. This has as I have said greta characters but it also has them making honest decisions, in particular the son of one of the suspects has some incredibly hard things to come to terms with, and i think his performance for me is the most real as is the conclusion he comes to – that is all down to the decision made by the writers.
As I have already stated this is a really good crime series with very little in the way of false leads or starts, it ratchets up the thriller aspects while never coming up short on plot elements that propel the story along, at times very quickly. It also creates space for real character moments that ring true not only to the story but to each of the characters that they interact with. As with any modern crime story the ‘heroes’ are flawed but find their way through life by clinging (desperately sometimes) to positive aspects of life whereas the similarly flawed ‘villains’ are almost nihilistic in nature, illustrating there is indeed a thin line between the good and the bad. This is a show that is easily re-watchable, unlike other genre shows due to its fast pace and relatively short episodes both the number and length. I recommend this highly not only to watch but is well worth the investment to own a copy.
“The Frozen Dead” is available now on Netflix